It took teacher George Bezanis just five days to raise enough money to buy a billboard shaming Mayor Kenney and Philadelphia School District leaders for allowing teachers to go nearly four years without a contract and five without a raise.
Beginning Monday, the billboard proclaiming "Welcome to Philadelphia, where we don't value our public school children, 5+ years without a raise for our teachers, with love, SRC, Mayor Kenney and superintendent" will appear on I-95 southbound between the Girard Avenue and Center City exits.
Bezanis needed $5,000, and has raised $5,255 through a GoFundMe page to date. He's going to continue accepting donations with the goal of keeping the message up for as long as the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has no contract — or as long as the donations last.
Bezanis, who teaches at Central High School, dreamed up the idea out of frustration.
"As each month passes with no agreement in sight, Philadelphia loses more and more great educators to other surrounding districts," he wrote in his original fundraising plea. "It is the over 100,000 children in the district, however, who suffer the most because of this lack of a stable workforce."
A veteran educator of 10 years, Bezanis said he himself has lost $38,958 in promised pay increases.
He's gratified and surprised by how quickly the campaign got funded, said Bezanis, who lives in the city and sends his children to public school.
Donations poured in — $5 here, $25 there. One person offered $20 — "school district teacher forced to work 2 jobs to take care of me and my family," she wrote.
Bezanis, who often speaks out at SRC meetings in a highly critical manner toward district leadership, is acting alone in the campaign — it is not endorsed by the PFT.
Both the mayor's office and the School District have said they are doing their best to get the teachers a fair contract.
Otis Hackney, Kenney's chief education officer, has said the city is actively involved in trying to spur negotiations, and that given President Trump's administration's stance on public education, "we appreciate the importance of resolving this contract as quickly as possible."
H. Lee Whack, spokesman for the school system, has said that the district wants a pact that treats teachers fairly "but also retains the fiscal stability that the district has fought so hard for."